An Old Woman Dies

By Thomas Knight

With the death of Margaret Thatcher, an ugly side to the British people has been revealed. Watching the news last night, I was struck by the sneering glee visible on some faces – mostly those of the general public – as they said that she’d be remembered for destroying Britain. For years, comedians have expressed a wish to piss on Thatcher’s grave, or drive a stake through the old woman’s heart just to make sure she’s gone. Some people are all too happy to grasp on to a fictionalized narrative in which Thatcher is given far too much credit for the ills of the world today.

Ken Livingstone, for instance, claimed that the modern financial crisis proves the failure of Thatcher’s legacy. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the crisis occurred decades after Thatcher left politics, and that it was a Labour government who continued her politics of deregulation and privatization to absurdity. It wasn’t a Thatcher government that put taxpayers on the hook for the folly of major banking institutions, or a Thatcher government which has failed to respond to a changing global situation. For all her many faults, Thatcher was a highly responsive politician, who correctly identified China as an important rising power, believed in her convictions, and brought Britain out of one of the lowest points in its history as a power which commanded respect on a global stage.

Her most controversial policies were to cease subsidizing businesses which were costing the country billions – British Steel and the mining sector. Whilst she inarguably did this in a sudden and sharp manner, it is important to realize that Thatcher had no way of knowing that she would have over a decade in power in which she could have seen her goals to fruition. Acting suddenly and decisively was unpleasant – and undoubtedly is responsible for the majority of the ill will targeted at her today. It is not entirely fair, however, to judge the woman entirely in retrospect and declare that she could have done better. The fact is that, unlike so many politicians today, she did what she set out to do, and she did it unapologetically.

Thatcher believed that failing industries should not be propped up by the state. She also believed that terrorists should not be negotiated with. Despite being almost killed in a terrorist attack herself, her conviction never wavered. Crucially, she never went to the kinds of levels that the Blair government did in curtailing human rights and civil liberties in the name of security. Arguably, Thatcher had more reason than any other politician in modern British history to want to lock up individuals without charge or trial, to ramp up surveillance and limit freedom of speech. It wasn’t in the height of the cold war that we saw these things come into practice though; it was in the years following.

Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly set the tone of the modern political debate. Her spectre looms heavy over the politics of both Conservative and Labour politicians, but it is not that spectre which died yesterday. Indeed, the slavish devotion to the principles of deregulation and a misunderstanding of ‘free market’ economics will continue to dominate the language of our politics for the foreseeable future. What people don’t seem willing to grasp is that Margaret Thatcher was not responsible for the worst outcomes of the logic that drove her policies – and she may very well not have taken such a course herself. I don’t think the notion of something being ‘too big to fail’ had any place in Thatcher’s mind.

There is also a very human tragedy here. One doesn’t need to like the woman to accept that she was one of the most important figures in ending the Cold War and shaping Britain as it exists today. Towards the end of her life, however, she was said not to have any memory of many of the key events that she played a central role in. Love her or hate her, Thatcher had a keen insight into the burden of government and the loss of her mind is a tragedy. It would have been fascinating to know what the Thatcher of the 1980s would have made of today’s political situation.

But instead of acknowledging any good that she might have done, we seem to prefer to tear into the woman personally. We love a pantomime villain, and ‘Thatcher Thatcher the milk snatcher’ has become the hate figure that modern folk lore requires. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hate and derision poured on her by hip and trendy 20-somethings who can barely name who the Prime Minister today is, let alone thirty years ago.

There are times when I am ashamed of my generation. Listening to people who have benefited from a country which no longer expects them to go down into coal mines and work themselves into an early grave, spew bile on an old woman who died not knowing what she achieved, because they inherited a hatred of her from parents or grandparents who are supported by one of the greatest economies in the world rather than the ‘sick man of Europe’, is one of those times.

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2 Responses to An Old Woman Dies

  1. Pingback: Margaret Thatcher | throughtheeyesoflittlemissw

  2. Weis Jere says:

    Has this always been true?

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